While some schools are zooming in on a particular focus like STEM or fine arts, Benjamin Franklin Charter School is zooming out to enjoy the big picture. The school’s mission is to offer students a well-rounded education in a learning environment where parents are active too.
“We’re looking for students to leave us with a very well-rounded perspective and well-rounded education,” said Shalisa Arnold, director of education at BFCS.
“We’re not interested in giving any of that up,” said Arnold. “We won’t give up our high academic standards, we won’t give up the idea that we think fine arts are equally important, and we won’t give up the idea that sports add to the quality of education as well.”
Success in all three areas may seem like a lot to juggle, but BFCS has had years of practice. The school was established as one of Arizona’s first charter schools in 1995. In response to parent demand, BFCS has spread to four campuses today.
BFCS believes that academics, arts, and athletics each add something irreplaceable to kids’ learning experience, and that balancing all three helps kids enjoy education.
Arnold described the three components as a three-legged stool. “Without any one of those legs, the stool doesn’t stand on its own,” she said. “We work to foster excellence in each of those three areas. And, we don’t feel like we’re successful if one of those is weaker than the other.”
Besides diversifying the learning experience to focus on athletics and fine arts, BFCS also helps kids find happiness by inviting parents to play a big role at the school.
What does the extra parental involvement bring to students’ experience?
“Everything,” says Arnold. “It’s a short answer, but we do have a very high rate of parental involvement and we believe that’s absolutely necessary.”
“Going back to the idea of a well-rounded education, we want our campuses to have a family feel,” she added. “We want parents to feel welcome and involved and as engaged as they can be. We believe we can’t possibly do what we need to unless we have the support and involvement of parents.”
For Arnold, it’s that family spirit that makes BFCS a place she’s been returning to for more than 20 years.
“What keeps me coming back and committed day in and day out is the relationships with families,” she said. “These aren’t 3,200 names on rosters and enrollment reports. I know them personally, I know their stories, I know what’s important to them.”
That’s really the most rewarding part of my job,” Arnold said. “Just taking care of the people that I have stewardship over and making sure that we are providing the product that we promised [families] in educating students.
Arnold has seen the pace and needs of classrooms change over the last two decades. She welcomes the change as an opportunity to strengthen BFCS’s tried and true methods.
“We have to move with those changing tides while gripping to everything that’s good with every fiber of our being,” she said. “We have to move faster, we have to be more creative, all to achieve that same end result [of educating children well]. All that is making us better, because it helps us operate with best practices and move forward with purpose.”
It’s encouraging to see schools, like BFCS, that take good stewardship seriously. BFCS’s mission is also a great reminder of the impact that parents— and even PE— have on student happiness!
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